It's been a week of frustration and unanswered questions for the evacuated residents in Paulsboro following last week’s train derailment. But for the first time, those evacuees finally received a bit of hope. A crane from New York City finally arrived in Paulsboro, a sign of progress in the cleanup effort.
Some of the newly evacuated Paulsboro residents came to Conrail’s public assistance center Wednesday morning for hotel vouchers as well as answers.
“This is crazy,” said evacuee Jonathan Jefferson. “I got home and was told to leave immediately. I can’t even come back to my house. My dogs are still in my house.”
An open house meeting for the Paulsboro community will take place tonight from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Nehaunsey Middle School. Officials say they plan to answer questions regarding air monitoring, environmental information, community assistance, protection and other issues.
The shelter-in-place order that was in effect for Paulsboro, N.J. was lifted Tuesday night as the evacuation zone was extended to about 100 more homes, officials announced at a press conference Tuesday.
"This is a precautionary order to ensure safety of the neighborhoods around the incident stemming from the elevated levels of vinyl chloride in the air but it's also designed to let the rest of the city of Paulsboro return to life as normal and not have the have the shelter-in-place on-again, off-again," said U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Kathy Moore at Tuesday's press conference.
The evacuation zone now goes from Monroe Street south to E Broad Street and Crown Point Road and from Spruce Street east to Mantua Creek.
Responders gathered to head back out to the derailment site on Wednesday. Workers with air tanks on their backs inspected the bridge and cars. The coast guard told NBC10 they plan to shoot liquid into the breached tanker to dilute the remaining vinyl chloride. Once that’s complete, they will begin to use cranes to lift the rail cars out of the river.
Some of the displaced neighbors believe they should be farther along with the cleanup effort than they are now.
“The tank should have been out of there,” said Jim Scott, a lifelong Paulsboro resident.
Schools remain closed in Paulsboro and life is not quite back to normal, especially not for the people now living in area motels. They tell NBC10 they are getting decent assistance from Conrail. Some say however they are not getting enough information from the coast guard regarding a timeline. For now they just want to know when they can go home. Still, they’re also trying their best to be patient with those who are cleaning up the mess.
“It’s a big job and they can’t get it done overnight,” said Bill Coney of Paulsboro. “It takes time. I figure they’ve done well. They’ve done the best they can do.”
Shelter-in-place was put in effect twice on Monday after officials detected elevated levels of vinyl chloride in the area. Paulsboro residents were forced to stay inside their homes with their windows and door closed. A shelter-in-place goes into effect whenever emissions or vapors spike. The shelter in place was first ordered Monday after 6 a.m., lifted later in the day and then reinstated again at 6 p.m.
On Tuesday afternoon the Coast Guard said that the air is safe outside of the new evacuation zone meaning most residents can get back to business as usual. Mail delivery in the area will resume, although customers who live within the evacuation zone must go to the Gibbstown Post Office to retrieve their mail.
The Environmental Protection Agency continues to monitor air samples in the 12-plus-block radius surrounding the site of the train accident. They say the air quality is currently not at an acceptable level and vinyl chloride remains in the air.
The state Environmental Protection Agency says that there isn't a long-term fear of environmental concerns with water quality in the area.
NBC10's Harry Hairston confronted Conrail Vice President and Chief Engineer Tim Tierney Tuesday and asked him why the rail company isn't saying much after the derailment.
"We are trying to put all the facts together so it's consistent," Tierney said.
Tierney deferred further questions to the company's media consultant but so far no word from the press person.
What was revealed was that a large crane was on its way Tuesday from New York City to lift the breached rail car from Mantua Creek. It's the same crane that was used to lift the airplane involved in the "Miracle on the Hudson." Divers and other lift operations are also needed.
Residents, and even some legislators, were fed up with the time it has taken to remove the 600 to 800 gallons of the chemical still remaining in the breached car.
"The fact is, we are moving safely, people are not getting hurt on scene, we are doing the right things, we are doing them in the right order, we are meeting our priorities, we are moving as swiftly as we can considered the very complicated problem we have," Moore said.
Crews will deal with the breached vinyl chloride car first. The Coast Guard says another car in the water has ethanol in it and hasn't been breached and that the other cars that derailed don't contain chemicals.
Evacuated residents can go to the St. Michael's Club at 406 Memorial Ave. in Gibbstown for further assistance with hotels and vouchers for laundry, child care, gasoline and other services. The center will be opened all night Tuesday to assists with the extended evacuations and return to normal 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. hours on Wednesday.
Paulsboro residents can call 1-800-230-7049 for more information.
Conrail says another 100 hotel rooms are secured for newly evacuated residents. The American Red Cross set up a shelter in case all the new displaced residents couldn't find hotel rooms but all the of the people had lodging.
There was previous talk of a public meeting at Paulsboro High School Tuesday night. The spokesperson of the Unified Command Center told NBC10 however that no meeting was scheduled.
U.S. Congressmen Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) and Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Pa.) plan to tour the area Thursday and address concerns about the cleanup effort, according to NBC10's Lu Ann Cahn.